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Jane Corbin
Paedophile ring exposed

On Monday, seven men will be sentenced at Kingston Crown Court for exchanging three-quarters of a million sexually explicit images of children over the internet. They were part of The Wonderland Club, a world-wide paedophile ring. Panorama's Jane Corbin writes about her experiences in following the case.

I first learnt of the activities of the club two years ago when I was admitted into the unmarked offices of the National Crime Squad in an anonymous industrial park in Sussex.

Panorama had been given exclusive access to the global investigation that was co-ordinated by the NCS from England.

During this time I saw unimaginable depravity and the most inhuman treatment of children. Hardened detectives involved in the investigation were clearly shaken.

Child
Children were subjected to horrific abuse
Detective Inspector Alex Wood says "these images stay with you, the most horrific scenes of abuse and they recorded sounds, terrible, terrible sounds."

The abuse I saw and heard was graphic, often photographed in stages, sometimes involving children as young as six months. I have tried to blot out the details but what I cannot forget are the faces. They are all turned to the camera and some are trusting but confused.

It all began in the rural community of Greenfield in California in April 1996. An eight year-old girl, Allison, was staying the night with her school friend.


You never think it's your child, never - it was just devastating

Allison's mother, Cheryl
Ronald Riva, the friend's father, took Allison into the computer room. Using a web camera linked up to his computer he broadcast his abuse of the child live, online, to his friends.

Cheryl, Allison's mother, told me "You never think it's your child, never - it was just devastating to me that she could have been pulled out of the sleep-over party in the middle of the night and raped and violated and this be broadcast to men sitting at home all over the States."

The investigation of Riva's crime turned up an e-mail address in Hastings, in Sussex. The Sussex police raided the flat, which belonged to computer technician Ian Baldock and confiscated all his equipment.

Massive network uncovered

Police computer expert, Nick Webber, found that in the six days prior to his arrest Baldock had distributed 1600 images to 17 other Internet users. It was distribution on a massive scale.

It took Webber five months probing the machine to find evidence of a sophisticated and extensive network of paedophiles, the Wonderland club. Ian Baldock turned out to be a key member of the club.

In a perversion of the normal exclusive requirements of a club they applied rules and membership procedures. The price of entry was ten thousand original images of child abuse. The investigation revealed that more than 200 men in 13 different countries were involved.

The NCS worked out a way to watch the club members live on the Internet and follow the electronic trail to find out who they really were.

Internet service providers came up with account names and addresses and police surveillance teams fanned out across England to find out who was using the computers when the images were being downloaded.


I never had so many friends before - It was great

David Hines
One of the members of Wonderland, David Hines, agreed to talk to Panorama. He was a loner, a sad inadequate man who had himself been abused as a child.

The internet gave him access to like-minded people who supported his perverse desires. He says "I had friends all over the world. I never had so many friends before. It was great."

Global operation

Computer equipment
Detectives confiscated large amounts of equipment
By the summer of 1998 the National Crime Squad had brought in 13 other police forces across the world in the hunt for Wonderland. The idea was to raid simultaneously to prevent the members alerting others and destroying evidence at the stroke of a computer key.

At the appointed hour on 2nd September, over a thousand officers with child protection teams, burst through doors from Milton Keynes to Adelaide, Rome to Missouri. The sheer scale of the material was overwhelming.

Seven Wonderland members in England, including David Hines, will now be sentenced after a legal process that has dragged on for two years and cost millions of pounds of taxpayers' money.

The maximum sentence they can receive is three years in prison and they are likely to serve much less. The tariff is due to be raised soon to ten years but too late for these men. And it may not be the end of the club.

David Hines says, "they'll hide up and then they'll go looking for each other and they'll regroup and the group will eventually be as big as it was, with new members and with all the old pictures still floating around out there."

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